HTCI Interview Part 7

Here's more from my recent interview with blogger Kristina Seleshanko, who has been implementing the HTCI system in her home and blogging about it online at Proverbs 31 Woman.


A lot of magazines and books discussing home organization provide costly examples of how to change our homes. Does it have to be expensive to set up an organized home? What are some examples of inexpensive ways to organize problem areas?

Mindy: Over the years, I’ve spent a personal fortune on organizational items that proved useless in the end. Somehow, I think I feel better about a problem if I throw money at it!

It is true that sometimes, yes, money needs to be spent, even in a House That Cleans Itself. The broken window blinds that hang crooked and give a messy feel to the whole room need to go. The moldy grout that has resisted every product you’ve thrown at it needs to be replaced.

But more often than not, achieving a House That Cleans Itself costs nothing at all. For example, consider the Sight Zone principle. In the book, I explain that every room in your home has at least one “Sight Zone”—that area you see first when you stand in the doorway and look inside. (A room with multiple doorways will have multiple Sight Zones.) I suggest that you evaluate the Sight Zone for every room in your house. Next, for each of those rooms, decide which elements tend to stay neater and cleaner and which tend to get messier. (For example, you might be pretty good about making the bed but pretty bad about letting your dresser top get cluttered.)

Then—here’s the key—rearrange the furniture in each room so that the part that tends to stay neater is the part that sits in the Sight Zone, while the part that tends to get messy sits in that area of the room you may not see at first.

Using the above example, you would arrange your bedroom so that the bed sits across from the doorway in plain sight, but the dresser rests against the wall beside the door, maybe even with a plant or a curtain on the near side that blocks it from full view of the door. How on earth does this give you a cleaner house? It’s a mental thing, which has physical repercussions. Allow me to explain.

Before implementing this principal, every time you walked into that room, your eyes landed on the messy dresser and your first thought was “This room is a mess.” Even if you came further into the room and saw that the bed was made, your brain said, “Look at that, I tried to do something neat to this messy room.”

Now consider the impact after implementing the Sight Zone principle. If every time you walk into that room you spot the neatly-made bed, your first thought is, “This room is neat and clean.” Then when your eyes finally catch sight of the messier part you think, “Oh look, there’s a messy spot in this clean room.”

Do you see the difference? In the first example, not only does the house feel messier, but if this happens in room after room, the mess can seem so overwhelming and hopeless that you don’t even try to clean. In the second example, not only does the house feel cleaner, but by allowing you to see the mess as an isolated issue you are more likely to jump in and clean it up as well.

Household experts and those who are naturally gifted at housekeeping would probably call this concept crazy. They would instead lecture you about that messy dresser, sell you a bunch of containers, and tell you to try harder.

Not me! I already know the cold, hard truth: If you are housekeeping impaired, lectures won’t change your behavior, containers create a whole new kind of clutter, and no matter how hard you try, you’re never going to change simply through sheer force of will.

That’s what makes the House That Cleans Itself system so different. That’s why it works, even when nothing else has ever worked before.

Clean Travel Tip #6

I took this travel pic with my iPhone, in Kauai. We were on our way to the airport to fly home and made a quick stop at one last sight we'd wanted to see all week but had never gotten around to. Thank goodness we did! It was an eyeful, for sure, and well worth the trouble. Talk about a great way to end a vacation!

As for traveling clean...

In a previous post, I talked about having an ELECTRONICS ZONE in your hotel room. Depending on the number of available electrical outlets and how they're placed, you may have to split this zone into two or more areas. For example you might have to keep your computer and related equipment on the desk, your cameras near the plug by the window, and your phone charger in the plug nearest the bed.

Though necessary, this can be risky because it's easy to miss seeing one or two chargers when you are packing to leave! To be safe, you should always follow this handy "reminder" tip so that no charger is ever left behind again.

As you are first unpacking, think in terms of something you are absolutely going to need on the day you leave, but preferably not until then. For example is there a pair of shoes or some article of clothing you know you won't be wearing until you're ready to go home? If not, maybe use an empty suitcase, an airline ticket, or something else necessary for when you leave but not needed during your stay.

Whatever item(s) you choose, integrate it significantly into your less noticeable ELECTRONICS ZONE(S). Thus, for example, when you plug in your phone charger, wrap the cord around your shoe. If you know for a fact that those are the shoes you'll be putting on when you're ready to leave, then there's no way you can miss spotting your phone charger as well. Or, run the cord for your camera charger through the handle of the empty suitcase. When you grab that suitcase to pack it, you'll see the camera charger and grab it too.

Why does your reminder item have to be something you're not going to be using during your trip? Simple: Because if you are housekeeping impaired, I can almost guarantee that you won't "re-rig" your reminder if you have to disassemble it for use. The first time you grab that shoe because you want to wear it during your stay is likely the last time the shoe and the phone charger will ever be in such close proximity again, at least while on this trip. If you are by nature a sloppy person, you're never going to remember to set up this reminder once you're finished with the item and take it back off.

If you're traveling light and don't have anything that you won't be using during your stay, then at the very least wrap something unexpected around the handle of a suitcase--such as a long wad of toilet paper--to serve as a vivid reminder of your chargers. When you are packing to go, you'll see the funky handle, wonder "What on earth?" for just a moment, and then that will jog your memory to grab your chargers.

The naturally neat might read the above and simply shake their heads or roll their eyes. But if you are housekeeping impaired, chances are you're nodding right now and going, "Good idea. I totally get it."

Isn't it great that God has filled the earth with both kinds of people? Come back soon to hear what I have to say about clean travel when your trip includes others.

HTCI Interview Part 6

Here's more from my recent interview with blogger Kristina Seleshanko, who has been implementing the HTCI system in her home and blogging about it online at Proverbs 31 Woman.


Do you have advice for women whose husbands are messies and not on board with The House That Cleans Itself system? For example, my dear hubby is terrible about sticking *stuff* on my kitchen counter and never moving it. We also have a problem with his mail; I have a special container I put it in, and when it's full, he's supposed to go through everything and toss out what he doesn't need. But instead, the container just overflows. One Proverbs 31 Woman reader also says her husband leaves his medicines on the counter, even though she's made a special spot for them in a cupboard. What advice might you give for situations like these?

Mindy: Most men are born problem-solvers, and it always helps to take advantage of that fact. In a peaceful moment, sit down and talk with your husband about the issue, focusing on the items, not on his character or behavior. Tell him something like, “We have a cleaning problem, but the solution I came up with obviously isn’t working. Do you have any better ideas about how we could handle these pill bottles?” If you present things correctly, he’ll see that this is a challenge to be solved rather than a condemnation of his habits, and there’s a good chance he’ll come up with something that will eliminate the issue entirely.

The hard part may be in helping him to understand why this is actually a problem and not just a matter of preference. For example, though I suspect your reader doesn’t want medicines left on the counter primarily because that makes the room look messy, there are plenty of other reasons why this shouldn’t happen:

- the kids might accidentally get into them

- the medicines are far more likely to get stolen if they’re out where just anyone can see them

- it’s too hard to wipe the countertops if items have to be moved out of the way first

- the medicines can roll away, get hidden under piles, or even accidentally spilled on or thrown out

- and so on.

Once he is convinced that this is an actual problem and not just a matter of two different housekeeping styles, he’ll probably understand the need for a solution and may even come up with alternatives so that the problem will be solved.

In a situation where it really is just a matter of preference, it’s best to admit that. Ask yourself if you’re being too picky, or if this is something you could let go of and just ignore. If not, then try to appeal to that side of him that wants to love and protect and cherish you. Ask him to bend a little for your sake, just because it will make you happy.

That’s how I would handle the issue of your husband’s stuff and how he leaves it on your kitchen counter. First, of course, see if together you can come up with some specific solutions for the various things he tends to deposit there. But beyond that I think you should just be honest with him and explain that each item—no matter what it is, no matter that this wasn’t his intention—feels to you like a little slap on the face. It’s disrespectful and hurtful and makes you very sad and frustrated. (If the rest of the house is a real mess, chances are he just can’t see what difference it makes whether the counter is clear or not. But even so, your feelings don’t need to make sense, they just are.) We all have areas in our messy homes that we need to keep under control simply for the sake of our sanity, thanks to our brain and how it works. Tell him this is one of your mental health zones and that you desperately need him to try harder just so that you will stay sane. J

Sometimes, that’s enough to get him to change. Sometimes, however, a husband will agree to change somewhat as long as you’re willing to give a little in return. For example, we had a mess-by-the-door problem that seemed almost insurmountable. You see, my hubby likes to take his shoes off when he comes in the door and leave them there until he’s ready to put them on again the next day. To make matters worse, sometimes he’ll wear different shoes to work, causing the pairs to pile up and make a big mess. As that is the first thing you see when you come inside my house, it makes me crazy, but he really feels that there’s nothing wrong with it.

None of my solutions fixed this problem—not conveniently-placed baskets or clearing a spot in a nearby closet—so finally I sat down and had a talk with him. I said, “I know you don’t think of this as an issue, but it is for me. Seeing your shoes there makes me feel irritated and frustrated every single day. For that reason alone, I need you to work with me to find a solution.” His response was equally honest, saying that while he heard what I was saying and he wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me, the fact was that he needed his shoes to be right there by the door or he would lose a lot of time and focus in the mornings if forced to retrieve them from somewhere else.

In the end, we decided that he did have the right to leave his shoes near the door, but within specific limits: He could only leave out one pair at a time—never more than that—and the shoes couldn’t just be plopped messily on the floor but instead had to be set neatly side by side, right next to the wall. It was a good solution. And though I’d rather not have to see his shoes there at all, I appreciate how he has stuck to this system, most of the time at least. As for me, I have done as I promised and stopped complaining or nagging him about the shoes he leaves at the door.

In the end, the most important key is to find a solution that works for your husband and the way he thinks. For example, maybe the guy who leaves his pill bottles on the counter is an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person. In your statement, “she's made a special spot for them in a cupboard,” perhaps the key phrase there is in the cupboard. Maybe when the pills are kept put away like that, he doesn’t see them and he forgets to take them. Instead, perhaps her compromise needs to be that the pills can stay out in the open on the counter (so he won’t forget) but that he has to put them into a little basket rather than just leaving them scattered willy nilly all over the table (so that they aren’t quite as much in her way, creating clutter). To me, that seems reasonable for both sides.

For your husband’s paper issue, maybe the container you chose is too big and he finds himself overwhelmed by the amount of papers it holds. In that case, get a smaller one. On the other hand, maybe the container you chose is simply too small, and the reason the papers are overflowing from it is because he only wants to deal with these things once a month but your container only holds two weeks’ worth. If that’s the case, get a bigger one!

Maybe he’s simply rotten at sorting and sifting, in which case the two of you should try and figure out some kind of simple pre-sort that you or he could do that would make the task feel less burdensome overall.

A final thought here: Ask him to specify a type of time or situation when he will be most likely to deal with the bin of papers. For example, maybe he doesn’t like doing them at night because then he’ll lie awake for hours obsessing about the bills, but he doesn’t mind sitting down on Saturday afternoons and going through them then, while you’re nearby cooking supper. The key here is that once he specifies the best case scenario for doing his papers, you’re allowed to remind him at those times without being thought of as a nag. Conversely, if you remind him at those times but he still doesn’t do the papers, you need to remember that he is a grown man and has the right to put this task off—though not to the point where your credit rating, electricity, etc., is in danger of being affected—as long as you can remind him with impunity the next time the situation again presents itself.

As you can see, getting to the root of these issues requires discussion, problem-solving skills, and a willingness to demonstrate love through action on both sides.

Clean Travel Tip #5

My daughter Emily got artsy with this shot, taken while horseback riding in Hawaii:

And now back to clean travel...

Previously, in my discussion of the ZONE principle of clean travel, I listed the zones that I most commonly use when I travel, including a KEY ZONE, SECURE ZONE, ELECTRONICS ZONE, FOOD ZONE, BEDSIDE ZONE, MAKEUP ZONE, PAPERS ZONE, SPORTS ZONE, and DIRTY CLOTHES ZONE. What other types of zones might you need to establish? Here are some ideas:

- a TOY ZONE, if you are traveling with kids

- a BABY FEEDING ZONE, if you have bottles, formula, spoons, etc.

- a BABY CHANGING ZONE, for diapers, wipes, baby clothes, etc.

- an ACCESSORIES ZONE if you're a bit of a fashionista and have lots of purses, belts, scarves, etc.

- a GYM ZONE, if you'll be working out daily and want to assemble a small version of your at-home gym bag

- a WEATHER GEAR ZONE, if it's cold outside and you've got lots of gloves, coats, scarves, etc.

- a SHOPPING/SOUVENIR ZONE, if you keep coming to the room with various shopping bags, purchases for home, etc.

- a FREEBIE ZONE, if you're at a conference or event where you are accruing various promotional giveaways.

- a GAME ZONE, if you've brought along a deck of cards, Travel Yahtzee, Gameboys, etc.

You get the idea. When you travel, what categories of items do YOU bring along? Start thinking in terms of ZONES, and your hotel stay will be astonishingly neater than ever before.

Oh yeah, one more thought on that "FREEBIE ZONE", listed above: By keeping these all in one place, you can better make the decision at the end of your stay about what comes home with you and what you'll leave behind. I hope it goes without saying that when all is said and done, most things in this zone should be left behind! Do you really need yet another handy all-in-one ruler/paper clip/Post-It note holder at your house, or 3 more Frisbees with company logos on them? If not, ditch 'em! These things will clutter up your house needlessly, stealing your time and your sanity!

Lecture over, putting soapbox away. Come back soon for more handy clean travel tips.


Pardon the Interruption...

...but I have some big news: My latest release, The Amish Midwife co-written with Leslie Gould, is now the #1 bestseller in Christian fiction! Yay!

ECPA bestseller lists

I've made the bestseller list before, but this is my first appearance in the #1 spot. I'm so excited, I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you here.

Have a great day!